Linguistic Resolutions: I will not be my father & the art of acquiring spanish neologisms

achorman 2 photo with sombrero

I stay away from resolutions like the plague. Basically as soon as I resolve to do something, I am pretty much guaranteed that I won’t get it done.

So I want to be clear: This year, I will speak less French with my children and I will most definitely not be fluent in Spanish after my epic two month trip to Mexico.

I will speak less French because when we needed to move to Asia for work, which conveniently put us in a country where neither my husband or I would now have to clean the toilet –a move I am quite certain ensured the success of our marriage– it never dawned on me that I would end up switching to English so our terrific helper Cherry wouldn’t feel excluded.

It was one of those things; I stumbled at first, managing to speak French to the girls and then translating to English for Cherry’s sake. Then my stumble turned to a slow roll down the hill. I would only speak English when Cherry was around and switch to French if we were out of the house. Before you knew it, I was rolling down the hill at full velocity, bulldozing everything in my way. When I managed to peel myself off the ground at the bottom, I was unable to recall the last time I spoke any French at all.

Bam, damage done. But I had a great relationship with my helper, who ended up as Cinderella and now lives in a palatial house in Austin. Woohoo (Hi Cherry!)

I have been paying for the mistake I made in trying to be inclusive. This happened when my eldest P was two and a half. She is now rapidly approaching 6. I need to stop and breath deeply here as that thought brings me to the precipice of a full on anxiety attack. I’ve been slowly clawing my way back but her French suffered tremendously. As a result, her sister’s is even worse, especially since she didn’t have the benefit of spending a few months in a French-speaking school.

Now that I am homeschooling, I’ve repeatedly failed to adequately prepare lessons to allow me to seamlessly talk about stuff in French. When it comes to math and other scientific stuff, I don’t even bother trying as I just handle complexity much better in English. Have you seen French conjugations? There’s just no way I can swing the uncertainty of science and getting the right ending for irregular verbs.

I’ve had to shell out some serious dosh to increase the time the girls hear quality French. They both go for an hour, twice a week to my friend Amelie’s house for French activities and conversations. This January, I also decided to send P, my eldest –little C won’t be of age until September this year– twice a week to the Acacia Language club to reinforce her French. It’s working but crickey, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble and money if I’d just been a bit less worried about others for once.

Now on to Spanish. I should speak it fluently. Really. I have no excuse. My mother speaks it. One of my brothers speaks it. I took it at school –until I forged my mother’s signature at the start of year two and switched to Italian. My father claims to speak it along with any other number of languages but in his own words, he is full of bullsh**. He is in fact the perfect example of what I don’t want to become linguistically. Here’s an example:

Excerpt from my childhood.
Setting: living room, after dinner, saturday night.
People: Father, mother, brothers and me.
Conversation in French between mother and children:

Shall we go to the beach tomorrow? Why yes I’d love to…Oh not me, I can’t because of this… sure you can you can just change that….wait but is there a concert at the beach? No I don’t think there is a concert at the beach. But how would we get there? Oh well your father would rent his taxi but take a few hours off and drive us there. Hmmm that could be good, the beach is so lovely at this time of year. Oh yes, I love it when the seagulls swoop down and steal my sandwich –  And how the lifeguards like to perv when you take your bikini top off – must you do that? Mom I am french of course I must. Ok so it’s settled: all in favor of going to the beach say Moi. Moi, Moi, grumpy brother… oh alright, moi too. It’s decided we are going to the beach!

A nano second of silence. My father opens his mouth:

So would anyone like to go to the beach tomorrow?

Ya Pop, the day you speak French is the day Putin decides to run Russia democratically.

So, you see, I really need to speak Spanish. I had a Spanish boss for a number of years. He employed his Spanish wife and sister, both of whom spoke little English. I had spanish assistants and spanish customers. I met and married a Mexican –a real one, not a Chicano–and lived in New York City. I’ve signed up and taken a number of Spanish classes. I was always the best student in class and then something gets in the way, I don’t sign up for level two and my Spanish get stuck like an old vinyl record, me forever speaking in the present. This is truly unacceptable.

I can get by in Spanish. I have to. My Suegra only knows the following English: It’s your mother, I just called to say I love you and it’s been so long since we had an answering machine, I am not even sure if she remembers that. I don’t know how she understands me. I can only speak in the present but I am always talking about the past and future. I was once left by my husband on my own to explain to his mother –the catholic woman I hoped would like me enough to encourage her son to marry me– that I had actually already been married and was finalizing a divorce. To this day, I am not sure what I actually managed to tell her.

Similarly, I can only capture a small portion of what she says because you see my Suegrita is way cool and she uses a lot of slang. The kind of slang my numerous books on tapes don’t cover. Sometimes, it’s not even slang. She is linguistically creative my Suegrita, which is fabulous, unless I actually need to know what she is saying to me.

Suegra: Javi…. spanish spanish spanish… some word I don’t recognize… spanish, spanish.

Me to J: What was that word? J: I am not sure. Me: What do you mean you are not sure?! J: My mother makes up words. Me: I am screwed aren’t I. J: Pretty much, yes.

So this year, I will most definitely not be rocking Mexican Slang nor chock full of neologisms from my Suegra. Now where is my lanita as I seriously need a couple of caguamas.

This post was written for the fabulous Raising Multilingual Children Carnival hosted this month by Open Hearts, Open Mind.  I’ll update the link once it’s up. Please check it out!

Homeschooling on a budget: Minimum Input, Maximum Benefit

So I am about five months into homeschooling my two little girls: P, now 5.5 and C nearly 3.5. It’s actually been much less since I embrace the international school holidays, of which there are many. In addition, I had a rather stressed and horrid start for a number of reasons I won’t go into now.

Most of the time, I feel I haven’t really started yet. Especially when I am trying to finalise my ‘goals’ for each girl -and here’s a chance to give a shout-out to a most impressive Mama and homeschooler Jody from Mud Hut Mama for providing so much help.

Friends will say I am being too hard on myself. I am sure they are right to an extent. And then maybe not. There are not many days I’ve actually planned stuff ahead. It seems that whenever I do, we go off track. Overall, I’ve just been enjoying time with the girls and often letting them play. But every so often, a little gem presents itself to me. I got lucky today.

If you walk into any toy store or mega market, you will find a number of shape sorting toys. You can opt for cheap and cheerful plastic ones or the posher, tree hugging (that’s usually me) wooden versions. In the end, I’ve noticed it’s almost always the parents guiding the kids. And if feels like a rather futile exercise.

So today, once again I am focusing on life skills (aka fobbing off my homeschooling duties) and by that I mean: help me put away the dishes, brush your hair, your teeth get dressed by yourself, etc., in the hopes we would make it out the door in time for this amazing Friday art class a fellow homeschooler organised at Attic Studios.  Unfortunately the Bangkok protests made it impossible for us to get to the class leaving me with nothing planned as usual.

As I walked back in the house, closing the door covered in Halloween stickers and dropped my bag by the fully decorated Christmas tree, I looked upon the red Chinese Lantern waiting to be hung and realised I could no longer postpone taking down end of 2013 holiday decorations any longer.

While the kids sorted the decorations, It dawned on me that I had a sorting/classification activity before my eyes. There were several groups: salt-dough decorations –from a burst of Pinterest parenting from Christmas 2012, which looked more like the ‘I nailed it’ meme than actual decorations– fragile Mexican figurines, wooden decorations and then the subdividing of my favorites: the traditional swedish straw decorations.

I felt rather chuffed about this and, as I went to take a picture for this post, I noticed that the girls’ morning chore of putting away their clean dishes and my cutlery could also qualify. 

So here you go: a cheap and, in my opinion more important, useful way to teach your kids classifications. Because really, I always try to stick the pentagon in the hexagon slot so why would I expect my 3 year old to get it right.



p.s. Notice how I lump shape sorting/grouping/classification all into one group. I figure they are close cousins and must be developing similar cognitive skills, whatever those may be. #whinging it.

p.p.s. I can’t believe I just hash-tagged within a post. It’s official, I have no shame. 

Bangkok Living: 20 Ways You Know You’re Embracing Your Inner Thai

Expat blogs in Thailand  

I’d like to thank the many readers and friends who helped me win the Thailand category and made me one of the top commented on blogs during this year’s expat blog’s competition.

Here’s the winning post, in case you missed it first time around!

If you had told me two years ago that I’d eat in the gutter off plates washed in a plastic basin, filled by a garden pipe, and prefer it to most restaurant meals, I’d have called you as mad as the hatter from Alice in Wonderland. Yet Thailand is just that, a country as wonderful and beguiling as it is perplexing. No sooner do you think you’ve cracked the code that another contradiction presents itself to figure out.

So here I am, squatting on a plastic stool, finally ordering things other than Pad Thai and Thai Green Curry and loving every second of it. This is my attempt to create a list of my experiences that encapsulates the tell-tale signs that I’ve finally acclimatized to my new home.

Drumroll please!

20. You no longer bat an eyelash when seeing a man riding on a pink bicycle or a python slithering across your garden.

19. Friends are chosen less by chemistry and more by the number of miles of traffic between your homes.

18. When you talk about a white Christmas, you are referring to a white sandy beach.

17. You stop wondering if you’ve found yourself on the set of Charmed when everyone suddenly freezes in a public place to that lovely tune in the background (aka the national anthem.)

16. TukTuks are for tourists unless you are trying to transport a dining table or 15 friends to a party.

15. You can finally use a squat toilet without peeing on your ankles.

14. You automatically switch between mouth and nose breathing as you walk by sewers and street food, respectively.

13. Sidewalks are for street vendors and open-air eating, not pedestrians.

12. You think it’s weird when you don’t find sugar as a condiment.

11. You don’t think twice of riding amazon (for us ladies) on a motorbike taxi while texting on your phone.

10.  You loose your wallet more often than you loose face.

9. You cringe when new arrivals do the Wai (hands together in a prayer-like position) in stores and restaurants.

8.You’ve accepted that YES, means ‘yes’, ‘no’, & ‘ I don’t understand a word you’ve just said

7. You aren’t surprised that your waitress, with full foundation and red nails, is sporting  a three-day beard stubble.

6. You eat all baked goods, including chocolate chip cookies, muffins, and –as a New Yorker this last one pains me– bagels with a fork and knife.

5. Seventy-Five degrees Fahrenheit (24C∘) feels like jeans and sweater weather.

4. You finally stop trying to shop for booze between two and five in the afternoon.

3. You eat by pushing food onto a spoon with the back of your fork and your knives haven’t seen the light of day in months.

2. You can’t bear to flush toilet paper and keep reaching for the ‘spray’ when back home.

1. You no longer wonder if that’s his niece.

Sawatdee khaa Y’all!

P.S. Feel free to share any examples you think should have made the top twenty!

To read other amazing entries including my favorite: N is for Nomads, an A-Z on why Mongolian living is awesome. Click here!



A Three Month Personal Blogging Experiment.

Ready for my confession?

Image Confessional sign with occupied light

By Antonio de La Mano

If I am going to be totally honest, I think I’ve hoped that somehow I’d write a magical post that would change my life. Now that I’ve shoved those delusions under the carpet, it’s time to take a nice hard look at myself and my blog and here’s what I’ve figured out:

I don’t write because I want it to be perfect. I want it to be funny or superbly researched. I want it to be original –granted the potty training and travel countdown lists aren’t exactly new but at least one of them was popular!

I start things and then find myself unable to finish them. Take musical Mondays in December, according to my blog we had one Monday last month. I have a 100 pending drafts that I don’t finish because I am afraid they aren’t good enough and I am going to lose readers. The over-analyzing has just about drained every last mL of my willpower. If I debate myself over the use of American or CommonWealth spelling one more time, I might actually cut my fingers off. I am beyond exhausted.

I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. Can you tell? Yes, unbelievably overwhelmed despite being pretty good at trying to live by a slow philosophy. The problem is that it’s tricky to maintain, especially when everyone around you seems to be a constant hive of activity. Oi! Stop buzzing and making me look bad!

I think I’ve got things sussed and suddenly I’m over-committed to mental ideas and projects and promises, most of which aren’t income earning, and I can’t breathe and want to curl up in a foetal position and sleep until the dawn of a new age – one where there is no more technology, which of course I’ll enjoy for about 24 hours before longing for the gentle glow of my touch screen. But I can’t curl up, because my student loans need to be deferred, again.

The current thorn in my side are two projects that have been sitting around for so long. How long you ask? Years people, like 2007. Oh god, I’ve just realised that in three years, it will have been a decade. I can no longer wake, eat, or sleep without guilt permeating from every pore of my body. (And I am totally lying there are loads of musty, damp projects that busy mental spiders have spun endless threads of webs around without actually catching any flies but let’s conveniently ignore that for now.)

My plan had been to spend the next three months taking a break from blogging on my personal site to allow me to finish at least one if not both projects. But now I have something else in mind. Something better, or so I hope.

I have ideas all the time and I let them flutter away. I sat on what I thought was a brilliant idea forever. Fifteen months later, the BBC published a similar piece on their website. <Clears throat> Not like the BBC has ever shown any interest in me but it would have been nice to have one pre-dating theirs!

So for the next three months I am just going to dump content on my site. It will be my chance to slice my painful mental abscess and just let it all ooze out, no questions asked. This will probably kill off any chance I’ve ever had of monetizing this thing but so be it.

I am excited. Are you? Maybe you shouldn’t answer that. Ok, time to see what’s been putrefying in the old noodle! Here we go…

P.S. Typos are where I draw the line. It’s the equivalent of leaving the house in yesterday’s underwear, unless of course you are only just getting home. If you see them, please let me know!

P.P.S. Would you have liked this as a vlog?